Friday, November 26, 2010

Staying Local

Red Crested Pochard
It's always a pleasure to be out and about on your local patch, particularly on such a beautiful crisp day like today, but even more rewarding when your showing somebody around for the first time.

Today I was accompanied by Ken Sherlock one of the Brandon regulars, who after meeting up at Napton Church this morning suddenly discovered that despite walking in the area on numerous occasions, had never actually visited Napton Hill or the nearby Reservoir!

Just prior to entering the church yard I'm 95% certain that the first bird of the day could possibly have been a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which flew across the church grounds. Unfortunately, as I was still in the process of sorting out my bins and winter clothing I wasn't fast enough to claim a definite ID. A more in depth tour of the church grounds produced many of the regular wintering species seen here such as Goldcrest, Nuthatch, Redwing, Fieldfare and the usual several Mistle Thrush, and although nothing out of the ordinary was on show it was still a pleasure to see so many birds feverishly feeding up on the vast variety of berries. Fortunately, unlike the cold snaps of January/February, when a cold snap arrives this early there's still plenty of berry stocks available to go around.

On the walk up to the windmill we met up with Bob and Pat who've been running the nearby farm for just short of 50 years and Ken and I were treated to a wonderful guided tour of their land, which produced stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Bob's knowledge of the area seems second to none and the several counties which can be seen from Napton Hill, including there landmarks, were pointed out to us in great detail. During our tour we managed Common Buzzard, Kestrel and the usual passage of Lesser Redpoll and Siskin overhead.

After a blank search of the quarry area, where earlier in the month a Great Grey Shrike had called home for several days, we moved off to Napton Reservoir to check out the waterfowl. Good numbers of Mallard, Tufted Duck and Pochard with the odd Great Crested Grebe, Wigeon and Shoveler on show, plus several Common Gull and three Snipe. The highlight of the day however was a gorgeous pair of Red Crested Pochard (photographed) which were showing exceptionally well in the brilliant sunshine. A Raven was also recorded overhead before we made our way to the marina and tea aboard 'Quidditch'. A final tour of the marina grounds produced Tree Sparrow, Kingfisher and Reed Bunting before a delighted Ken departed.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Birds I DID see!!

Short-Eared Owl ( Library Picture)
Birding, for those who are passionate about this fascinating and sometimes frustrating pass time, consists of various periods of ups and downs, and the past few weeks for me personally have been just that. My last post, aptly entitled 'Birds I didn't see' was basically in response to my recent dormant sightings period of which all birders are familiar, a period when everyone around seems to come up trumps while you seem to arrive too late for the event, or are just simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The last week however has seen a reversal in fortunes and one of those nice periods were everything in the garden is rosy. While working on Newlands Reed Bed at Brandon Marsh last Thursday for example I inadvertently flushed my first Woodcock of the Autumn, and today's usual Sunday visit also came up with the goods.

After a few attempts to make contact with the recent Short-Eared Owl, which has been reported on Sheep Field of late, I finally made contact this morning just after first light and had some excellent but brief views as the bird quartered the field before dropping out of sight, having probably found it's unsuspecting breakfast. Continuing on through New Hare Covert and just after rounding the path to overlook Newlands Reed Bed my first Autumnal Bittern was seen flying low over the reeds in the direction of the River Avon. Unfortunately not seen by all in the party, but thankfully by Jim Rushforth our official site recorder!!

After a stint in the Wright Hide which produced of note a male Muntjac on Wigeon Bank, 2 Little Grebe, 1 male and 2 female *Goldeneye (* a second male was seen later from big hide), plus over 40 Snipe, we made our way through the Central Marsh Path where a Little Egret flew south-east towards Teal Pool.

The best however was probably the last bird of the day and which also turned out to be a first for me at Brandon. Literally on my way out of the reserve at around midday word came through of a number of Waxwing reported in the main Car Park. As I said earlier, 'the right place at the right time' and within seconds I emerged into the car park along with Derek Bennett, immediately beginning our search along with several other enthusiastic souls. Scanning what was a large flock of Lesser Redpoll/Siskin which had congregated in the nearby Birch, Derek had spotted something a little larger near the top of the tree, and yes a single Waxwing, no sooner identified than gone, but a definite sighting nonetheless and a very welcome first for me at Brandon!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Birds I Didn't See!

A foggy day!
Decided to have a well earned break from blogging over the past 8 days and thanks to those who've emailed me seeking assurances that I've not popped me clogs!!

I have been out and about in the field during my blog absence but to be honest I'm going through one of those dormant periods that us birders seem to suffer from time to time. My book of 'Birds I didn't See' as dear old Ted Jury used to say has been getting a good dust off of late. The returning wintering Bitterns at Brandon have eluded me thus far too and several times I've entered hides to be told 'It's just flown off '. The most recent was on Saturday when the wife and I entered big hide just seconds after it's departure.

It all reminds me of last year when meeting George Wootton (a regular Brandon photographer) at the gate on my departure I informed him there wasn't much about, only for George to open the hatch at Baldwin Hide some time later to find a Great White Egret peering at him from point blank range!! The evidence can be found on the front cover of last years Brandon Annual Report.

This mornings visit to Brandon too was a complete blank. I left the marina about 7am on a beautiful clear and crisp morning, Venus shinning brightly to the East, full of beans and hoping to catch a glimpse of yesterdays reported Short-eared Owl on Sheep Field, only for Brandon to be totally fogged in for the day.

Notwithstanding, I've managed everything you'd expect to see in and around the area as we fast approach Winter, Redwing, Lesser Redpoll, Siskin and  Fieldfare a plenty and of course I should mention the recent Bearded Tit at Napton Reservoir and Great Grey Shrike on the hill. The marina too is providing some excellent spectacles currently with a major roost of Starlings dropping in each evening, this along with around 100 or so Pied Wagtail and I also noticed late this evening some 30+ Skylark coming into the adjacent field. The local Tawny Owls are quite vocal too at present and we still have regular visits from Little Owl and Barn Owl, so my cup is always half full.

Monday, November 08, 2010


Just back from a weekend on the Trent & Mersey Canal with boaty friends, and various commitments over the past several days, have somewhat limited my birding activities but I did manage a visit to Brandon Marsh last Tuesday and a quick sortie locally. Mind you my local patch is still awash with visitors getting some good views of the current Great Grey Shrike, which for the most part doesn't seem to be too illusive, what a great bird to have on your doorstep!

My Brandon visit produced three separate visits from a Peregrine, which caused the usual havoc on East Marsh Pool, but the highlight of the day was when 32 Golden Plover dropped in around mid-morning. Unfortunately, I was over on West Marsh at the time searching for the returning Bittern and had to make a hasty return to big-hide, scurrying across the central path and passing a couple of very surprised visitors as I jogged passed muttering, "I'm not a twitcher honestly".

Speaking of which I must make comment on Monday nights programme on BBC4 'Twitching' A very British Obsession', which I found to be extremely annoying and frustrating! The one thing that was quite apparent to me was the fact that Twitching for these guys in particular was simply not about the birds! It's about a group of lunatics who are obsessed with wanting to get one up on their fellow lunatics, and in one instance this meant a couple dragging their young daughter from pillar to post in search of their illusive 'tick'!!

When the day comes that I have to confirm my sightings to some primadonna, No! not you Jim :), who wasn't even on site at the time, then I'll give up and start knitting for my hobby. These guys really need to get a life and enjoy birding for what it is, a relaxing and fascinating study of wild birds in their natural habitat, not sitting in a bar on the coast of Ireland pouting because you've not got a tick on a bird, when just outside the door is an array of magnificent species just waiting to be seen!

To finish I must say a quick thank you for the emails regarding my Chainsaw Course, and yes I passed both sections and am now as they say on the paperwork, competent!!! Many thanks too to Warwickshire Wildlife Trust for their financial support.